Saturday, June 28, 2008

Writing Women and Strange Monsters ~ To My Muse, May Sarton ...

"And now we who are writing women and strange monsters
Still search our hearts for the difficult answers..."

~ May Sarton, My Sisters, O My Sisters ~
From The Collected Poems of May Sarton

I am starting a new page for the Dragonfly Cottage website, called Words, Words, Words ~ A Writer's Journey. It's sole purpose will be to help me keep on track as I write a book, a book that has been a decade, a lifetime, in the making. On this new blog I shall explore thoughts and ideas about writing in general, my writing practices, my resources, and day-to-day struggles as I write the book, The Road To Dragonfly Cottage. Certainly the writing and content of the book will remain private, but the blog itself can be a jumping off place for me each day, a day to let the chatter of my mind settle down and play itself out, warm up practice that will lead me into the day's writing. As a teacher of a writing practice for 30 years, I will also share many journal exercises along the way that might help other writers examine their souls and their lives in a way that might open up a critical vein to allow the blood to flow more freely into their writing. It must be fresh, even if we are writing about an experience that feels a lifetime ago, and it must be our living blood on the page.

It's very difficult, at times, to get writing done here at the cottage. Ask anyone who works at home. You either do nothing but write, save the absolute essentials of life like caring for the animals and trying to remember to eat as well, OR, you use every conceivable thing in the world as an excuse NOT to write. The laundry HAS to be done! I can't help it if the gnomes are at it again. We accept them here and believe in them if nobody else does. Yes, we are fanciful and whimsical, but gnomes do really exist, oh ye of little faith...

Just this morning I heard them
singing, "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to
play with the pugs we go..." It is
most disconcerting to try to
write the story of your life with
gnomes riding around your tiny
cottage on pugs shouting "Yeehah!"
every time they pass your desk.

Strange monsters. May referred to a time in history when it was hard to get published as a woman, and yet women were struggling to keep writing anyway. Women's work in the sixties was just coming alive as writing militants like May Sarton wrote Mrs. Stevens Hears The Mermaids Singing, and lost several teaching jobs because it was the book that she wrote, at the time of the burgeoning women's movement, when she came out a lesbian. It just wasn't done then, and though she set a great many readers on their ear, had Women's Studies centers around the globe cheering, she lost a job at a college that was a significant part of her income, but that book still stands today as one of the iconic writings of the times. We who must write, write. We don't write what is popular, we hope people will read it, but in the end we write it because it is what we are burning to say. May wrote against all odds and against much criticsm. At 45 she took off for New Hampshire to live alone, away from everything she knew and loved, and just wrote what was in her heart to write. Such amazing work she did there!

I think about this as I write here in the cottage. I was 45 (the same age May was when she left the outer world to move to New Hampshire to live alone and write...) when I left my marriage, came out a lesbian, and would turn to an inner world that was truly my most comfortable living space (... writing women and strange monsters...), and I broke all the norms that were expected of me at the time. The happy little housewife had "gone funny" and I heard things, more often than I like to remember, like "with less money and material possessions than she has ever had, she is writing like a demon. What's wrong with her? She's nuts!" People who had known me my whole life long dropped like flies and disappeared. I know no one today from my former life save my family and a couple of friends who came along just before the changes, and understood, even before I did, what was about to happen.

One finally has to be stripped bare of the outside layers of polite society and "Miss Manners" rules and etiquette to get to the meat of what one has to say. And I mean HAS to say if they are going to live. Quasimoto was better understood than the woman writer.

I had to laugh today as I was working on the new page for the website. There is a page where I need to write a bio. I've had a pretty standard bio for years, updating here and there as new things were accomplished and some old things had kind of faded into the background. As I started to write this I just giggled outloud in an unseemly manner because I've been listening to Natalie Goldberg explaining to Julia Cameron in one of the best interviews on writing I've heard, ever, from a 2 c.d. set called A Conversation on The Writing Life by Julia Cameron (The Artist's Way) and Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down The Bones), about what Natalie calls "First Thoughts." She wrote about it in her book Writing Down The Bones, which I first read over 20 years ago, prior to studying with Natalie twice, and having had all of my students read this amazing book. (The best selling book on writing ever and my absolute favorite.) Natalie speaks of "First Thoughts" as the way the mind first flashes on something, before second and third thoughts (the inner critic) come in to tell you that you shouldn't write it that way, it is probably impolite, and it's not the cutting edge of the truth, or so I think. Second and third thoughts are safe. So I laughed because I started writing a bio which was definitely from "First Thoughts," but absolutely on the money (If you can imagine that the way that I survived a childhood of abuse was to create an imaginary world to live in. I understood, long ago, that Alice was probably happier down the Rabbit Hole, and Dorothy in Oz, no matter her protestions at the end that there's no place like home, witches and flying monkeys notwithstanding.).

So I decided to write the bio from what I feel is the gut-level truth, meaning the truth that while the essence is real, the facts are somewhat hidden behind the seven veils. I am not afraid to tell my own truth, but you'll never see me writing a "Tell All" book. I will turn my life inside out to share things that I hope might help others, things I've learned from personal experience. I will NOT write about anyone I know and love because their lives are their own and it's not my right to invade their privacy, as well I am a woman that protects those she loves like a tigress protecting her young. And so I fell into metaphor, not as a way to be overly poetic, but to get my point across without revealing other people's truths. So while the bio has something to do with the fact that I was adopted, that I lived through a childhood of abuse, that writing was the raft that saved my life, you will read a fanciful bio that tells the truth, my truth, in an entertaining way. It begins...

"Maitri Libellule was delivered by a stork who mistakenly dropped her in a stand of forsythia bushes with a notebook and pen her only tools for life." There really were forsythia bushes. It's where I hid to write as a very young girl, writing quite fitting poems and stories and filling notebooks by age nine. It's no one's business what the details of my life were during those years, it only matters what the outcome was (who I am today) and who I became along the way.

I once wrote a book called Voyage of The Stranger: The Peregrinations of an Adopted Child. It was very poetically written but told a story that was absolutely, painfully true, and yet came to a time of understanding and redemption. The publisher loved it and kept it for some time, and finally said that she would publish it if I would go back in and be specific about the details of my abuse. It wasn't so much that I was afraid to do so, though I wouldn't under any circumstances -- that all falls under TMI ~ Too Much Information -- but my editor and the publisher misunderstood the whole concept, the whole meaning of the book (And, among other things, Sexual Abuse was one of the big topics of the day with books coming out by the boatload. Trust me, my therapist made me read them, I know.) I did not want to be a spokesperson for the sexual abuse movement. I lived it, lived through it, and had the right to close the curtain on that part of my life in order to feel well and sane now. It would have been nice to have sold the book, but my sanity and well-being won out.

I had spent a lifetime feeling like the little girl with her nose pressed to glass watching the happy family inside, and wanting desperately to belong. The book, though it mentioned abuse among other factors that caused me, to the best of my understanding at the time, to feel this way, was NOT a book about abuse, it was a book about how many of us (...and there are thousands, millions!) who feel just like the little girl on the outside looking in, wanting to belong. THAT is what I wanted to focus on. And we all feel that way for different reasons. Abuse was one of the keys, among many other things, that made me feel that way, but the next person might feel that way for other reasons. I wanted it to be a book for those who felt like strangers in life, those who never fit in, those whose little noses had been pressed to the glass for most of their life, longing, but unable, to cross the threshold, to go inside and join the happy people. It might even be that the happy family inside wanted them there, but they were unable to go. I have been unable to go inside my whole life. It took me half a century to learn to make a home on the other side of the glass and be, without excuses, happy living there. I can visit the happy family, I can love them, but I will never be a part of them in the way that society expects. I was there fully when I raised my children, but at midlife I am free to live on the other side of the glass. Writing women and strange monsters, indeed. And if that be what I am, then that be what I be, because I am comfortable and happy in my own skin for the first time in my life, and it was a long time coming.

And so I write my life and live my days as best I can, even if the dishes only get done every few days, all the animals have fresh food and water and treats and toys, and I eat, and there are enough clean clothes to wear, and if I live in a kind of disarray with piles of books and fiber supplies all around me, so be it.

So yes, I am a writing woman and strange monster, and I imagine I will live out the rest of my life this way, searching my heart for the difficult answers. And I will feel blessed to have lived such a life.

Be who you are, be all that you are, let your heart lead the way. I am here cheering you on!

Blessings, Love and Joy in Abundance,


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sweet Home Blogger Award! Thank You So Much!

Many Gracious Thanks to the Lovely Lady Rose
for sending this award to all the creatures, great
and small, here at Dragonfly Cottage, including
me, their proud mother and humble servant....

It is an almost inconceivable task to narrow my choices down to five bloggers who contribute multitudes of love, joy, creativity and inspiration to one and all, but I shall do my best, and for all of those out there that I can't list here, I love you all, and you know who you are from my frequent drops and ads on your marvelous sites! Here, then, are the five that I have care-fully chosen, and my love, thanks, and gratitude to each of you. My admiration for your blog, work, and life knows no bounds...

The Sewing Mom - Alright, this one was on Lady Rose's list as well, but she is the very first one who came to my mind. Her site is so beautiful, the ambiance as well as the content. I am always awed by her continuing creativity, warmth, and talent. Just to look at her site lets a ray of sun flow out of the computer and into your day. Thank you so much dearheart for all that you have done, and all that you do.

Robin's Woods - I know that I mentioned Robin's blog as one of my favorites in the last round of awards, but I simply cannot tell you how deep my feelings run for this blog. It is so gentle, so beautiful, I have actually become dewy-eyed perusing this blog. It is an absolute must-see for everyone!

Random Ramblings - This blog has continually delighted me, intrigued me, even left me mesmerized at some of the wonderful photos and entries. I adore it and I hope you will all take time to see this wonderful blog. There are a variety of subjects here, but if you love gardening and animals, you'll love it!

Nodin's Nest - I love this blog so much. It is tender and sweet, lovely to look at, full of homespun thoughts, love and creativity. She has recently done a beautiful piece on the passing of Tasha Tudor, one of the greatest Muses of my life, whose passing was so painful for me I couldn't even write about it. Lovely humor, motherly wisdom, beautiful art, and more. Don't miss this one.

The Mom With Brownies - This blog had me at the beginning. With a simple "Cheap and Yummy Brownie Recipe" right in the heading of the blog, and a quote underneath it that says, "Dust if you must but I believe a house becomes a home only when you can write 'I love you' on the furniture." Now there is a woman after my own heart! And as we homeschooled our children, now all adults and the pride of our lives, the homeschooling information on this blog is just wonderful. Do visit here and pick up a brownie or two while you're there!

I thank all of these women from the bottom of my heart, and know that you, dear reader, will enjoy them as much as I have.

Blessings to one and all,
from our home to yours...

A very grateful Maitri

Sunday, June 22, 2008

When Our Lives Echo A Book Which Echoes Itself...

"You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, 'No, I don't want to watch TV!' Raise your voice -- they won't hear you otherwise -- 'I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!' Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: 'I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!' Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you alone."

~ Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler ~

This is me from a little
girl on. It is called "Odd
Eyes Reading," and it is
a perfect portrait of
my entire life...

You are about to begin reading... When I picked up Calvino's novel sometime in the early 80's I picked up the book that would turn my world inside out and upside down, the book that would forever make me look at literature in a whole new way. I immediately escaped into another world. A world that I had known all of my life. A world where the characters on the page seemed finally real, safer, more comfortable. I was more at ease, and I disappeared within those pages, never wanting to leave. The t.v. was on in the next room and I closed the door. I was in my own little world, the world of the book. Not much has changed for me in 54 years.

The chapters in Calvino's magical novel alternate as numbered chapters with titled chapters. The numbered chapters are about the experience you are having reading the book that you are holding in your hands, and the titled chapters are the real story, many stories, each interrupted at a suspenseful moment, ten novels in one. Mary McCarthy was quoted on the back cover saying, "Calvino is a wizard." And it is so true. And the titles of his novels... He wrote one called The Castle of Crossed Destinies, and it made me wonder how many of us feel that to be true for us in this life? Wizard, alchemist, shaman, writer, Calvino was all of those. He died in 1985, just six years after publishing If on a winter's night a traveler, and was the most translated Italian author at the time of his death, venerated not only in Italy but around the world.

It's a funny thing when you go back to read a favorite book that you had read long ago. The thing that captured my innermost heart the first time that I read it was that he broke all the rules, shattered the notions of what form should be, what a novel should be like. I was always the odd outsider, the square peg in the round hole. His novel appealed to me like no other. Now, his very words help me to understand myself in a whole new way.

Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you alone... That is a very apt description of the way I exist in the world. I love deeply, I am a gentle caring person. I love my family and my friends, but if truth be told, in the end, I am most comfortable sitting here, like I am this night, writing with a single light illuminating the pages of Calvino's book and writing here. The tea kettle is on, the birds all asleep, the dogs curled in quiet repose, and my fingers are clicking softly on this laptop. My thoughts run deep like a well, underground, and some of them are so profound they render me speechless, unable to describe what I am feeling here.

It is not considered polite to want to be left alone. Few people understand that there are those of us that can only survive this way. I live, as I have written before, very nearly the life of an anchorite, in a closed world. My forays out, much needed errands, to be with family or friends, are enjoyed, but upon my return I must have silence. It is as though time spent outside of these walls suck the very life out of me, and it is no reflection on the people I love so dearly. The well has run dry and the water table must be allowed to rise. Silence is the nourishment my body needs. Too, I lead a very rich life here, not in dollars and sense but in a world of imagination and beauty, even if often in disarray. I tend to the animals and what needs to be done, but most of my time is spent working and it is in words that I find myself, like the piece that finally fit the puzzle. I have decided I am not square, I am octagonal, and I fit inside of syllables, even singular letters, I curl up inside the letter O, I slide, invisible, around and through ellipses, I peek through the letter B, like double windows open and covered lightly with fluttering lace curtains I hide behind. I fold myself in the pages of a book like a blanket when it is time for bed. I sleep with my back to the spine.

If you've understood little of what I just wrote, if you think me a little off, perhaps crazy, daft, you just might be right, but at 54 I embrace every part of myself with a kind of delight I never thought I would find. I won't begin to speak of my relationship with the letter Q. That's no one's business.

I just went into the kitchen to pour the hot water over the teabag in the cup. I'd let it boil so long as my mind drifted on the page that I had to refill the pot, and my upside down honey bear, in a teapot next to my mug (there was little honey left and it was stuck hard to the bottom) had melted all the way down so that it slipped sensuously from the head of the bear into my mug. I took deep pleasure in that. In the end it's always the little things. Now I have to go back and pour the rest of the water into the mug. I was lost inside a dangling participle before, but now I am awake and can finish making my tea. I'd best go do it before this little window of opportunity closes before me.

I so often miss the mark, my head in the clouds, thinking, thinking, thinking, or lost in the pages of a book. I suppose it's not for nothing that I have so often been referred to as The Absent Minded Professor. I have to laugh at that because I am not a professor, but a confirmed, life-long autodidact who left college so that I might really learn, live, meet literature head on in the world around me, find my own way. Life had it's way with me, and here I am. Not absent minded, but with a mind too full. The tea kettle, oh yes, the tea kettle...

Well, the tea is steeping and the honey bear is certainly worse for the wear, but I got that last bit of honey and feel smug. That bear wasn't going to get the best of me!

Where was I? Oh yes. I was thinking about the title of Calvino's book, and yes, only the first word is capitalized, another little side-stepping of the norm. If on a winter's night a traveler. I let it roll around my tongue, I breathed it out in the the air before me, the words floated there so I could really see them, and then, when they had risen off of the page I knew, I felt, I witnessed a truth I had never caught before. I felt a shock of recognition. The whole meaning of life is in those few words in the title of the book.

We are all, each of us, traveling alone on a winter's night. That there is so much pain in the world, dark times, sorrow, wars, depressions in the world and inside of ourselves, sickness from too little light, this is the winter's night we walk through from birth to death. The valley of the shadow of death. But, if we pack well, as any traveler should, we will have a lantern to light our way, a candle to light the dark corners, we find, if we have eyes to see, beauty in the snowy roads before us, in the moon, the stars, like shattered diamonds against midnight blue velvet. There is so much beauty in the world, even in the dark times. Even an armchair traveler can see that. I am an armchair traveler, and I am daily astounded by the beauty in the world, the joy in the little things, a singular moment, no two alike, like snowflakes and fingerprints. I don't want to close my eyes. I fight sleep. I don't want to miss a thing, not even the sound of my big black dog's tags on his collar jingling in this moment, as he got up from the floor next to me and went to stretch out on the couch.

I suppose my tea has finished steeping. I have hours of writing before me, and will write late, or, rather early, into the weesmas, the wee small hours of the morning. Even my Circadian rhythms are upside down, but living alone with the animals, it works out just fine. Even they have adapted to my rhythms. There is magic in this little cottage. I am learning, at midlife, to pack well for the rest of my journey. The way before me becomes clearer and clearer. I'm glad to have Calvino to help light my way, and others too. Colette will show me where to go, and I will admire Virginia, but not take her path into the ocean with pockets full of stones, or stick my head into the oven as Sylvia did. Poor Sylvia. No, Colette lived fully and well with delight, sensuously, with animals, books, and writing, and one dear companion until the end. I have a dear companion somewhere in the world. She is odd like I am, and oh what a relief that is. We are two companionable solitudes and however that plays out will be just right, will be enough. Love lights the way too, even if not in the storybook fashion we were taught it should. I've never done anything because I "should." I hope to God I never do.

Now for the tea. Any while you sleep, and while you dream, I will be writing, and thinking of you.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Magic and Moments at Dragonfly Cottage has won two "Arte y Pico" awards! I feel so blessed!

Dear Ones and Faithful Readers,

Imagine my surprise when I was nominated for this prestigious award, first from Henson Ray, whose blog Henson’s Hell: Random Musings from Henson Ray of "It Happened in Plainfield, (A Humorous Online Mystery.)," -- I have loved this blog from the first time I saw it; and this morning the award was sent to me from dear Barb at Craft Junkie, whose blog and artwork are stunning. She also has a store on etsy. They have both sent me the esteemed “Arte y Pico Award.” It is part of a tag initiative from the “Arte y Pico Blog,” where you pass along the compliment to other bloggers.

I feel truly awed, blessed, and grateful for this award. Thank you both so much, and many thanks to Arte y Pico for creating this award. It means the world to me.

Upon winning this award you are to explain the rules and then choose 5 other blogs that you feel deserving of this award. This is a daunting task because within the entrecard community, which I dearly love, I have met so many amazing and talented people, learned so much from them, and daily visit their sites for inspiration, renewal, and just plain fun. Please know, all of you out there who know me, that this was very difficult to narrow my favorite blogs down to 5, but in addition to the two wonderful bloggers that nominated me, I simply must choose! Here, then, are the rules...

1) You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also for contributing to the blogging community, no matter what language

2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.

3) Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.

4) Award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of "Arte y Pico" blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.

Here they are the five blogs I am sending this award to:

Aerten Art

I fell in love with this blog on sight, and it never ceases to delight and leave me filled with awe. The blog is beautiful, the art is wonderful, a constant source of inspiration. It is the site of Kelly Naylor who also has a wonderful site on etsy for her amazing art. Cheers Kelly! Keep on keepin' on!

Margie and Edna's Basement

These two "elderly sisters" keep me laughing (My daily B12 shot!) and they are a constant delight. Hugs to you both! They have already received this award but I'm sending it again!

The Grey Yogi

This beautiful, heartfelt, spiritual blog is an enlightening, healing, and soulful site full of love. Everyone should read this blog!

Life's Little Wonders

This blog made me gasp outloud the first time I saw it. Caroline Parson's paintings are so touching, so original, so heartfelt and awesome I would love to fill my little cottage with them. Kuddos to a gorgeous site whose stunning artwork you must not miss!

Robin's Woods: Daydreams, Old Memories, Wishes-Come-True

When I saw this blog for the first time it almost made me cry and I felt that Jennifer Robin who has done this site in honor of her mother, was a kindred spirit. It is truly inspiring and I promise you if you visit it it will become one of your favorites. Thank you Jennifer for creating this beautiful, heartfelt blog...

Please visit these wonderful blogs -- you won't be sorry -- and they deserve all the praise and honors that might be bestowed upon them, as they inspire not only me, but a world of others every single day.

Blessings and many gracious thanks to one and all,
and to Henson and Barb, thank you so much again.
You have truly touched and honored me with this


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Clear-Cutting A Path To The Soul...

"In the greatest confusion there is still an open channel to the soul. It may be difficult to find because by midlife it is overgrown ... But the channel is always there, and it is our business to keep it open, to have access to the deepest parts of ourselves."

~ Saul Bellow ~

We are all seeking our peace, in our own way, in our own time. Midlife seems to be the time we become most aware of this. We have spent our lives, up to this point, raising families, engaging in society, working, balancing our family of origin with the families that we have created, trying on many different hats, and seemingly, at times, feeling as though we are going through adolescence over and over again, feeling tender and young and lost, no matter what our age might be. We awake in midlife to find, often, that we have been following a path that has taken us into a jungle of confusion, and the only way out is to clear-cut a path into an open meadow, and take stock of all that has come before.

In sorting things out I am spending a lot of time reading, cleaning out my home, slowly, gradually, paring down, not just in the sense of material things, but weighing what really needs to be in my life, and what does not. Who needs to be in my life, and who not? Often we hold onto people, places, and things because they are familiar when they are no longer serving us, or we them. Those kind of ties must be cut gently, thoughtfully, kindly ... but firmly. I have had to do such a thing in the last year, and it hurt, and it hurt the other person, but in the end we both had an albatross lifted from around our necks and we are both all the better for it. It's okay to let go, in fact, it's essential to our well-being and the life ahead.

The quotes I am using in this piece I found in a book I am reading with great delight, am deeply moved by, and find great joy, peace, and a sense of surrender in. I am surrendering to my true life. That doesn't mean it will happen quickly. The road to freedom, within and without, is never easy, but essential. The book I am reading -- and it is so wonderful I barely have words for the sense of fulfillment, that sense of, "I found you (the book) at exactly the right time! -- is called A Big New Free Happy Unusual Life, by Nina Wise. I absolutely adore the subtitle -- "Self expression and spiritual practice for those who have time for neither." We all find so many excuses not to do the work we need to do to find our true path and follow it. And so I am picking up my machete and I am going to clear-cut a path to my own heart, I am going to look deep into my own soul. And yes, this has been yet another view into a journey I have now been on for 9 years, from 45 to 54. Interesting, that. Nine is a significant number in numerology, and it has not only been 9 years, but my ages at both ends equal 9. I don't pretend to fully understand the significance of that, but I have my suspicions.

In Wise's book, there is, in the very beginning, A Note from The Author. In it there is a paragraph that left me awestruck, and further defined, for me, my goal for the life I have ahead of me. My young life was filled with pain, tumult, and confusion. Much of that carried over through my thirty years of marriage and raising three children. It was only when I woke up at midlife that I could begin to see the tangled web that I had woven. One day I woke up and began to untangle the web. It would not be easy, but crucial. My "growing up," my finding my true self, my learning to live a life of compassion and loving-kindness (... even when that compassion is an act of telling a person "It is not healthy for us to be in one another's lives," and ride the waves of pain into shore, barely breathing, we must be strong enough, and brave enough to do so, because not taking the necessary steps to our own freedom and well-being is to not allow the other the same.) And so when I read the following passage I nearly cried with relief, with recognition, and it gave me a stronger spine to stand up straighter and walk through the days ahead. That she speaks, in this piece, of Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, was not a surprise, but felt as though both she, and he, my great teacher, were both taking one of my hands and walking me down the first steps of the path, then waving at me as I must keeping walking onward myself. No matter how many people we live with or are surrounded by in our daily lives, truly, we are always walking our own path alone...

"To heal the world, Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us, we must begin by healing ourselves. He tells the story about boat people fleeing Vietnam who fell prey to the wild seas and acts of dehumanizing violence by pirates. If only one person on the boat was able to remain calm and peaceful, the likelihood of survival for all of the passengers was greatly enhanced. We might think of the planet as one of those fragile boats, afloat in a sea that is now stricken with violence. If each of us develops the capacity for equanimity, kindness, and compassion, the likelihood that we will survive as a species and create the kind of world we wish to leave our children and for their children is exponentially increased."

The foundation and intent of my work and life has long been to live with as much compassion and loving-kindness as I possibly could, for myself, for the world around me, through my writing and work, but when I read the above quote I realized that the significance of this goal was far more important than I had realized. As a mother and grandmother, it is not just my goal, but my obligation to do what I can to leave a world for them that will allow them to grow, to live full lives, to find peace, purpose, and fulfillment, and yes, do their part to pay it forward for the generation to follow. When you are a mother, you think you understand this. When you have a grandchild you see the world unfolding before you, a world that you won't live to see, but you know that it is your obligation to do what you can to ensure their future well-being. When my precious 4 year old grandson, Lucas, has grandchildren of his own, I will most likely have left this planet for the next realm. But my work now is to leave a legacy of love and compassion, of simple human kindness, and that as each one reach one it will be a better world for all, just like the one man in the boat remaining calm, it is our duty, our obligation as citizens of the world, to try to be that man, to live with dignity and grace and a sense of calm. As my Buddhist teacher Charlotte "Joko" Beck once said to me, "If not, why not. If not now, when?" There is no disagreeing with that. And so like a great Zen Samurai warrior I must cut away the things that have not only held me back but not been healthy for the people that I love and the world I have walked in. If not, why not? If not now, when?

Later there is a quote attributed to Confucius... "If you don't change the direction in which you are going, you will end up where you are headed."

I was not headed in a good direction in many ways. That I have been fortunate to have had a mid-life wake-up call when I still had the time to do the work, the healing, and continue on through the rest of my days living fully all that I was meant to do and be is a true gift of grace, and I am more humbled and feel more blessed than I can say.

May your own path become clear, may your soul be a reflecting pool that shows you who you are and who you are meant to be. May we all have the grace to keep moving forward. I wish you all of this and more, from an open heart.



Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Living On Light ... Doing What I Know I Have It In Me To Do...

"Once I read that there are yogis in India who live on light. They drink a glass of milk once or twice a week and claim to get the rest of their nourishment from the sun. Lately it has felt like certain colors, certain patterns, somehow nourish me."

~ Eleanor Coppola ~
From her diary ~ January 30, 1981, Napa Valley

This evening I have been going back through a much loved book, Ariadne's Thread: A Collection of Contemporary Women's Journals, edited by Lyn Lifshin. I first read it in the mid 1980's when I was teaching journal writing classes myself. All of the quotes used in this entry are from this book. The book was published in 1982 and I read it in 1986. By then I had had all three of my children. Jenny, born in 1977; Rachel in 1979; and Aaron, in 1983. I was a young mother immersed in mothering and self examination. Even then the quotes I am using tonight were marked. It seems I have spent nearly three decades trying to live my way into these passages I have chosen for tonight's entry. I don't know why they struck such a deep chord in me back then, but I know why they do now. I have crossed the portal into midlife and at 54 have turned around and look at the rest of my life before me. I am preparing for the time I have left and it seems to carry tremendous import. Tonight I shall ruminate on these things.

The above quote by Eleanor Coppola struck that chord in me, not because I could possibly "live on light" as the yogis do, but in an odd turn of events I found this quote just as I have changed my diet and eliminated carbohydrates and sugar, and have only a very little bit of alcohol, a small glass of wine on 2 celebratory occasions with the family. What has happened is that as my body releases those substances, something in me has cleared, as if a heaviness has lifted and I have a greater clarity, as if I am living on light, metaphorically speaking. And
colors, and yes patterns, not only nourish me, but have a brilliance I don't believe I have heretofore seen. And this is important now, it has been a very long time coming, a decade or so, and most especially the last couple of years. I have felt a turning, an opening, an urgency. I have found myself releasing, more and more, the things of the outer world, the material things that the world today seems to feel necessary for at least momentary happiness. I find the things that I buy, the things that surround me, are tools for transformation, vehicles for the inner journey.

I surround myself with books, stones and crystals, flowers, air, light, color. I am looking around the cottage to see what I might be rid of to lighten my load and the atmosphere around me, too dense with things, needing to be emptied of everything possible so that my mind might have a vast meadow to wander in. I am writing a book, I have animals to care for and a garden to tend. I must cook and eat and tend the cottage. I care about these latter things in a way I never have. My body needs to be lighter and freer, and I must begin to hold everything I choose to keep, to surround myself with, to touch, to hold, to have, as holy objects, sentient beings to share the journey with. I have collected too many things over the years, things that I thought would bring me happiness, things to hide behind, secrets to keep. I was building imaginary walls around myself to feel safe. I was not safe as a child. I am safe now. I am at peace. I am ready to take up the gauntlet and live my way into the world and the work that I have to do wherever that takes me, which is why these quotes by one of my most beloved novelists, Gail Godwin, moved me so deeply...

"My new book is about that junction in life when you know you'd better get moving or else."

"One day I'll look back and be able to explain this curious inertia that keeps me from doing all that I want."

"What has enabled me to come as far as I have? Utter fright at not doing what I know I have it in me to do."

~ All three quotes from one journal entry, December 23, 1975. Stone Ridge.~

The above three lines were from three consecutive paragraphs in that entry. I think of the recurring and often relentless depression I have moved through in my life, periods of inertia when I was as if in another world. It is a beautiful thing, at midlife, to step out of the darkness into the light, to embrace the notion that "it is time to get moving," and to do what I know I have it in me to do. I have been like a slow growing seed that takes a very long time to germinate, to flower, but one day opens it's petals to the sun and hums with a radiance formerly unimagined. I feel that inner humming. It is time.

I believe that I will always live, in the main, my cottage, cloistered life, with brief forays out into the world. This seems to trouble many people around me, but my life is so full here, my work so deep, I need the silence and companionship of my animals, and I need less and less when it comes to things of the outer world that once seemed, to me, so important. I will always have a deep hunger for books, for things for the garden. I read seed catalogs like some people read novels. I sketch out garden plans, I begin to prepare meals mindfully, I care more and more about tending to the things that I have and doing the household tasks, the details of living that for most of my life I have avoided, as if I were afraid to engage with the physical world at all. Abuse led me to slip out of my body and live in my mind and hidden spaces, invisible to the naked eye. Now I understand why I live this way. It is comfortable, it is known. But even within these walls I have lived with too many things and cared for them poorly. With the new clarity I am finding, with the deeper connection to spirit that I am experiencing, with the world becoming more and more precious, each moment a gift, having passed the half-way mark in my life I am happier, more at peace, more awake and aware than I ever have been. It is with great excitement that I open myself to this new phase, that I step over the threshold and walk into the days before me, holding everything close to my heart, while letting go at the same time. It is a time of awe, of wonder, of joy.

I think of those yogis, living on light. I live for the lucid moments now when I am aware enough, perceptive enough, to notice things I would have once passed by without thought. I take more care with the things that need doing, rather than doing them in a perfunctory manner or not at all. I am learning, I am growing, I am on a pilgrimage, unseen by the rest of the world, but felt inside of my body as if I had entered the subterranean caverns of my own being to the place where I might discover my origins. It is there that I find God and we converse in silent communion. This time in my life is profound, intense, a calm respite, an interlude, a time in which I am learning, ever so slowly, what needs to be done and to carry it out. I am patient, content to move at a snail's pace, so that I might fully learn what it means to be alive on the earth, at this moment in time, and I do my work with rapt attention to detail. I've a long way to go to clear-cut the path I have allowed to become overgrown with tall grasses and weeds. I feel like Mary discovering the secret garden. Behind these four walls I will weed, and cut back, and hoe, and take great care to plant the garden of my life that I shall live in the rest of my days. It is a very exciting time. The work, if slow, exhilarating.

And so now I finish this time of rumination and sit silently in the dark, the room lit by one small light, and listen to my animals breathing as they sleep, dreaming their dreams, as I dream, awake, in unison with them, and the world is quiet all around us.

May you find your light, may you live in peace...


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Trying To Make A Salad On A Saturday With The Help Of The Dragonfly Cottage Crew...

YOU try cooking in a kitchen the size of a shoebox
when three pugs try to help!

Sometimes I'm cooking with all FOUR dogs
in the kitchen. Moe is a lab-doby-something-
or-other mix. You do the math. Thankfully,
this time he watched from the doorway...

I began chopping raw vegetables. First the cauliflower
and then the broccoli. If the pugs had noses to speak of
they would have turned them up at the vegetables.
They were in it for the meat...

I scrubbed the carrots and got ready to chop them
but I knew I'd hear from the peanut gallery...


"Oh fer cryin' out loud, can't a bird preen
without all that choppin' in there..."

Henry, Grey Parrot, who has no use for dogs and
hates chopping because it is so loud. He later
recanted when all of the birds got some of the

"That bird drives me nuts."

Babs, who is no one to mess with...

I tried to chop the cabbage in peace but Lord, the
racket going on was louder than the chopping...

Coco gave up, it was taking too long for her, and
she went to take a nap on her favorite step...

This is the London Broil for the salad. It is a 2 day
process. I marinated it for 24 hours with salt, pepper,
plenty of fresh minced garlic, and Herbes de Provence.
Yesterday I seared it on both sides and put it in a large
pot with a little water, beef bouillon, and the rest of
the marinade. It baked for 8 hours at 250° and then I
took the pot out and let it cool enough to refrigerate.
Today I heated it, lifted the meat out which was now
so tender I only needed to use a fork to mash it up
in the pan above. Adding back a little of the cooking
liquid kept the meat moist.

"I smell something."

The raw vegetable mix and London Broil will make several
meals. I took a smaller pot and mixed some of the vegetables
and meat, using Annie's salad dressing, an Avocado Parmesan.
I'd never had it before. It is delicious. Tossed together it made
a wonderful lunch, and tonight I had some adding a little more
of the dressing, ripe black olives, and artichoke hearts. I'm
working on a carb and sugar free diet but that doesn't mean
I can't eat well! I can stir fry the vegetables, add grilled
chicken, or any number of things. It's an easy way to make
many meals with a few basic ingredients...

"I don't care how many ways you can
use that stuff, I want the beef now."

Lunch in the red cup, part of my dinner in the green pot,
and enough for a meal tomorrow...

"This is ridiculous. I'm waiting here under
Mom's desk. She'll slip me a treat."

Sampson, who is always right...

I do look forward to moving into a place with a nice big kitchen, but it's nice to have a little help around the house.

Maitri, who won't go hungry for days,
nor will the dogs, the birds, and anyone
else who happens by...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Living In The Metaphorical Forest ~ A Woman at Midlife...

"Artemis as an archetype represents the part of a woman who has a genuine and deep connection with the earth and who may act from her love and her outrage to protect forests, animals, women and children, the planet, and vulnerable parts of herself.

" ... During midlife the desire to be our real selves, which comes from our soul, contributes to the crises we unconsciously create when we do not feel vital and authentic. There is an internal impetus to become a whole person and when we spend time in the metaphorical forest and the actual forest or natural world, we are exposed to the possibility and growth of our instinctual nature, our spiritual connection with Nature, and our sense of oneness with the universe."

Crossing To Avalon ~ A Woman's Midlife Pilgrimmage
~ Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. ~

It wasn't until I came upon the above quote from one of my favorite books, Crossing To Avalon, which I first read in 1995 and many times since, that something murky became clear in my conscious mind. I spoke about the 8-Ball in the last entry. This answer has been coming up from the depths of that mysterious water for well more than a decade.

When I left my husband in the spring of 1999 people might have thought that I had fallen out of love with him. Nothing could be less true. We had longsince been dedicated partners and are still very dear to one another today, but there is something I have known about myself from my youth, and because of longterm childhood abuse it was such a clouded subject that I could never understand the implications.

I could tell you that I left my husband for a woman that I loved very much, the opening of myself to another woman had been a yearning so deep that finally, like a siren in the sea, she called me out of a kind of long sleep. I don't think anyone was that surprised, and we didn't last long, and that was as it should be. To everything there is a time, and a purpose for everything under Heaven. It was necessary, it was painful, and it catapulted me into the depths of the metaphorical forest so fast and so deep that it shook me to my core and I didn't know if I would come out of it alive.

What I didn't realize at the time, what I only begin to realize now, is that my life had been so full of secret longings and secret yearnings, dark places and lonely spaces, that the forest was both frightening and a relief. I went through spells of panic, near despair, I considered suicide, and finally I came to a place of peace. I am very much the woman "who has a genuine and deep connection with the earth and who may act from her love and her outrage to protect forests, animals, women and children, the planet, and vulnerable parts of herself." I am both otherworldly and odd, as well as common and ordinary. And I needed to discover all of those myriad parts of myself and what it meant when they came together in one woman, me, and what it would mean for me from midlife onward.

In another book that I love and cherish, and again, have read several times -- A Match To The Heart ~ One Woman's Story of Being Struck By Lightning, by Gretel Ehrlich, she writes:

" 'Now you are sentenced to live,' a neurologist at the lightning conference had told those of us who had been dead and revived. A sense of panic ensued, but panic is like fresh air. The mountains, and every draught we breathe is new. Exposed and raw, we are free to be lost, to ask questions. Otherwise we seize up and are paralyzed in self-righteousness, obsessed with our own perfection. If there is no death and regeneration, our virtues become empty shells. At best my virtues are small, but at least I could rely on panic. A carapace had been smashed by lightning and all the events that followed -- divorce, loneliness, exile, and unmasking -- had exposed new skin."

When I reread this tonight, in preparation for writing this blog entry, it was with a kind of shock. Again, I am being led, as I begin to come out of the forest, to the answers I have been seeking for a decade. Ehrlich was really hit by lightning, not once, but twice in her life, and the second time almost killed her. It's amazing that sometimes in life we have to be "struck by lightning" in the metaphorical sense to begin the process of dying and being reborn. I had long hidden under my carapace and the events that happened just prior to my leaving all the security I had ever known, and the events that followed, "divorce, loneliness, exile, and unmasking," have indeed exposed not only a new layer of skin, but have unearthed the real woman that was hiding deep inside herself to try to fit in, to try to fulfill other's expectations, to try not to seem too odd, and never quite fulfilling any of those attempts at normalcy. People's anger and alienation led me further and further into my shell until I barely left the house. I have been hiding for ten years. I will never be a person who cares much about going out into the world, but I believe I am on the verge of leaving a little more. I have been terribly afraid of "what's out there," and yet at the same time I have become a stronger and stronger woman. It has been one of the great mysteries of my life, finally being revealed, if only little streams of light coming in under the doorway and around the cracks of the windows. If the light came too fast I would run deeper into the forest, blinded by the light. I am inching my way out, but, though moving slowly, I am coming out a whole woman, comfortable in my own skin, for the first time in my life.

I am a very gentle woman, full of love, kind, with a very soft heart, deeply compassionate, a nurturer. I am also extremely sensitive, and my safe haven here at the cottage has been that carapace Ehrlich spoke of, but if you look closely you can see two bright eyes peeking out from underneath the shell. The shell that surrounds me, covers me, hides me, is the womb I have been growing in. I feel there will be a birthing soon. And as Bolen wrote, in the quote at the top of the page, I am beginning to feel vital and authentic, a whole woman for the first time in my life.

Flipping through Thomas Moore's beautiful book, Original Self ~Living With Paradox and Originality, my eyes rested on the heading for a chapter near the end of the book...

"Care of the soul often means getting out of the way rather than doing something."

I flashed on some deep truth in that moment. I have been in my own way most of my life, always trying to do something, anything, to fit in, trying to twist and bend myself into some pretzel of a person like a contortionist in order to feel that I fit in this world like everyone else. The more I untangle myself and slide into the comfort of living in my own skin, unapologetic, even celebrating this life of mine, the more I see people all around me stuck in their own contorted shapes and forms. I begin to realize that this is why midlife is so important. We are standing at a crossroads, and we have a choice to make. The chance to hide and one day die, never knowing all that we might have been, or the choice, the scary choice, to enter the forest not having a clue where we are going or where we will end up. I chose to take the leap and dive into the unknown. It has not been without it's perils.

A synapse just fired in my brain and I remembered the last lines from Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken,' written in 1915. He ended his poem with the answer I have been seeking...

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

The truth revealed. I am not odd, no crazy woman in the attic, I simply took a road less traveled, and in midlife, in realizing the truth of my existence, I am freeing myself in a way that is both unexpected and, yes, a delight. And that has made all the difference.

And now, surrounded by silence and animals sleeping soundly, I am at peace. This journey has been worth it all. I will meditate upon the changes, continue to chart my course, and keep moving forward...